What do one of the city’s top purveyors of contemporary Middle Eastern food, one of its finest examples of Gothic architecture, and the food of France have in common? Welcome to Reine, a dazzling new restaurant set in the exquisite surrounds of The Cathedral Room of the Melbourne Stock Exchange, and the first outing for restaurateurs Rebecca and Al Yazbek and chef Jacqui Challinor, the team that brought us Nomad.
Better still, it’s complemented by an enticing sliver of a wine bar, La Rue.
The superb space opens its doors on Tuesday 1 August. To get you primed for the good times, here’s Jacqui Challinor on her picks of the menu.
Bon soir, Jacqui. What’s good?
All good meals start with freshly shucked oysters, we’re serving ours with smoked olive oil and a seaweed mignonette. You can’t go past the showstopping cultured butter from Long Paddock served with crusty baguette from the team at All Are Welcome. And what’s bread without a side of saucisson and wood-roasted leeks vinaigrette?
From there, hand-dived queen scallops and truffle butter roasted over the fire are a must, I reckon, as is the confit rabbit with green garlic ravigote.
We’re also serving steaks from some of the country’s best producers: O’Connor, Blackmore and Rangers Valley, all with a choice of sides such as celeriac boulangère and pomme purée with bone marrow and jus gras.
For dessert, the ruby grapefruit with bay leaf crème and St Germain or something from the cheese trolley.
What’s your favourite thing about the space?
Every time I take a moment in the room, I discover something new, and I get the feeling that will never stop. Just this week I discovered a brass tile at the entrance of the dining room that says “Collins Street Melbourne”; it’s such a beautiful little detail and a special one to take note of when you walk in.
Which dish best captures what Reine is all about?
The duck neck sausage cassoulet. We recently went on a research trip to Paris and the cassoulet I had at Benoit was one of those food memories that will stay with me forever. When food has that effect on you, it’s a really special thing. I’m hoping a little of that Benoit magic rubs off with this dish.
Are there any echoes of the food you’re better known for at Nomad on the menu? (After all, Paris is the Beirut of the West, right?)
The menu at Reine & La Rue is far removed from the cooking I’m known for, but it’s been a fun journey stretching my legs and trying something new. I guess you could say that the heart and soul behind the way I cook carries through onto the menu here, the food is still grounded and humble, the flavours are bold and the connection with our incredible suppliers is just as strong.
You’re right on Collins Street; if we’re popping in for a snack after work or a hard day’s shopping, where would you steer us?
The hors d’oeuvre section of the menu that is a perfect option for post-work snacks, all available by the piece. Drop in for the Comté, celeriac and horseradish tart, or pissaladière and beef tartare with smoked bone marrow and Jerusalem artichoke. And anything from the oyster bar with a glass of Champagne is the perfect treat after a hard day’s shopping.
How does La Rue fit into the picture?
La Rue is the dark and sexy counterpoint to the opulence of the main dining room. We’ll be open from 4pm-late so it’s the perfect spot for an early knock off Armagnac Negroni and a couple of snacks after work, or settle into the full menu from 5:30pm. Once summer kicks off, the courtyard between Reine & La Rue will tie it all in together really nicely.
And what if we’re at Reine to go big. How would you go large with a gang?
Start with a fruit de mer or oscietra caviar with créme épaisse and fried kombu, hand-picked mud crab brandade as a mid-course then finish with a one-kilo David Blackmore ribeye with a side of pomme puree, bone marrow and jus gras (my favourite thing on the menu!). For dessert I can’t go past the Jersey milk soft-serve with Mornington Peninsula hazelnuts and Little Pier extra-virgin olive oil. If you’ve still got space after that, take a look at what’s on offer on the cheese trolley, curated by Anthony Femia, of Maker & Monger fame.
How about those of us who don’t eat the animals? What have you got for us?
Plenty of options for both vegetarians and vegans! The Southern Cross mushroom pithiviers is a favourite amongst our resident vegetarians (and meat eaters alike) and we’ve put together a robust offering for our vegan friends on request.
And to close?
Start and finish with the Flora Martini, our signature cocktail: Never Never gin, Dom Benedictine, vin jaune, Arbois and pear syrup. With the love of Paris in mind, Tom Hnatjuk, our brilliant bar manager has included the vin jaune for a twist on the classic.
Reine and La Rue, open for lunch and dinner Tues-Sat from 1 August 2023, 259 Collins St, Melbourne, 03 9280 3395, reineandlarue.melbourne